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42                              THE GAY GENIUS

The thrills and dangers began at Chutang, conveniently indicated
by a group of rocks which sometimes stood up thirty feet above water
and sometimes were partly submerged, as the water rose and fell
according to the seasons. It was winter, a difficult time for naviga-
tion. Because of the narrow passage, the difference in the level between
the summer flood-tide and the dry winter could be as much as a
hundred feet. The boatmen usually watched the level of the water at
this group or rocks in the middle of the river. These rocks, called
Yenyu, took their name from the appearance of swirling waters which,
breaking against them, formed spray like the misty, tremulous hair
of women. When completely submerged, they formed a vortex even
more dangerous for the sailors. There was a local proverb: "When
Yenyu appears like a horse, down the Chutang do not pass; when
Yenyu becomes an elephant, up the Chutang do not ascend." But the
saying really did not help much because of the varying nature of the
river-bed; it was desirable at one place for the water to be low, and
at others to be high, all depending on the height of the hidden rocks
under the water. At a certain point, if there was a sudden storm,
the boatmen would wait for days for the water to recede to its safe
level before they proceeded. Still, through these gorges people went
and were willing to risk their lives for money or for fame, as the Su
brothers were doing now. All a traveller could do was to confide the
care of his soul to God, because there was nothing else he could do
about it. People usually offered a prayer at the beginning of the gorges
and another prayer of thanks at tie end, in whichever direction they
were travelling, and consequently the gods at the more dangerous
sections of the voyage were always well provided with wine and
beef.

One-o'f Nature's wonders, the gorges provided the proper setting
for strange tales and legends of fairies living on the mountain-tops.
Just before coming to the entrance to the Chutang Gorge, there was
the "Spring of the Holy Mother". This was a small crevice in the rock
on the bank, responsive to the sound of human voices. Whenever a
traveller went up to this crevice and shouted loud enough: "I am
thirsty!" the spring would give forth water to the amount of exactly
one cup and then stop. A man who wanted a second cup had to shout
again.

The Sus asked the blessing of the gods and proceeded down the
river. As it was dangerous for boats to travel too closely together, it
was the custom for one boat to pass at least half a mile b^low before
another boat started. When official's were travelling, soldiers were
stationed at proper intervals with red flags in their hands to give the
signal when the boat in front had safely passed a dangerous point. As
Su Tungpo described it: